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With the overwhelming increase of photographic images, it is no wonder that the public gets confused over what they are seeing. Is it real? Did it happen like that? Are they cheating? The 2015 World Press competition was dogged by this to an extreme, in that they had to look at the photographs again and reject many which were destined to be prizewinners. Journalistic, sports, nature and landscape photography are all affected now. Even one of the winners has since been found to have not taken the photograph anywhere near where he said it was, and to have staged it.
It has all got out-of-hand, with photographers hardly knowing what to do (and some of them doing the wrong thing), and the public as confused and mis-trusting as they are of our politicians these days. Even that sacrosanct area - Press Photography is now tarnished. this leaves many photographers including me disgusted with the way things have gone, and the way in which the profession has allowed itself to be pulled into an area that is giving it a bad reputation.
Let me touch on "how things used to be" to give some insight into how things are now. In the days when film was king, photo emulsion had a good but limited way of showing what we photographed. In particular contrast, brightness, and the way in which monochrome ("black and white") film saw colours. You might have had to put a yellow or green filter over the lens to make sure that greens such as grass and landscape were displayed properly. When you developed the film and came to do your prints, you may find that a strong area of sunlight had "bleached" an area out, or the contrast of the scene was not how it was when you saw it. You might well "burn in" the sky a bit, or hold back (dodge) the bleached-out part. You might also crop the image (or a picture editor might) as you took the photo in such a rush that you could not fill the frame properly.
These fairly simple things, which occurred again and again, might be put right in the darkroom. Most of us did it, it was almost always down to the limitations of film and equipment. I know that even in the film days some people could also manage to actually take things out of the photo altogether, something most of us never did.
So for me, those things - apart from the last one - taking things out, are what you had to do, usually due to the limitations of the medium. And they are still acceptable. In Lightroom or photoshop, I crop, change brightness, contrast etc. - that's pretty much it. But what I would never, ever do is change a photograph to an extent that it no longer represents what happened, or manipulate a landscape so much that it has probably "never looked like that". Well I would if I was working under proposal number two below, which I never have and never would.
So what the industry and the public need is photographs that either;
1. Have the sort of things done to them due to the limitations of the medium or camera not being able to photograph the scene as it really was.
2. Do what you like.
So in a scenario such as the World Press Competition, items under the second choice may not get through. Hopefully they wouldn't make the news pages either if they purported to be "as it was". But more important than competitions (of which there are too many - that's another story though) is real life. That the public can see what happened and know that it was not manipulated or altered such that it no longer represents to any reasonable person what happened in the photograph when it was taken.
I note that there is a backlash starting in fashion and music too. Some of today's pop-stars have started to cut down on the ridiculous amount of tanning and photoshopping of their shape. Good on them!